Saturday, March 31, 2012

quick thoughts on a few recent reads
(all from the public library)

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

An e-audiobook from the library. (Ebooks I can probably take or leave, but e-audiobooks I love).

The Chosen One is a work of contemporary fiction aimed at the young adult-audience. Set in a polygamist community and dealing with the abuse and abuse of power rampant within it, The Chosen One reads like a made-for-TV movie.

A bookmobile features prominently in the story. However the novel's 13-year-old narrator and protagonist insisted on referring to it nine times out of ten as "the Ironton County Mobile Library on Wheels," which was endearing at first, but quickly became irritating.

Crossed by Ally Condie

I read, but never posted about Matched, the book to which Crossed is a sequel. I hadn't planned to read Matched, one of 2010's mass of dystopian YA releases, after reading another to those releases (Delirium by Lauren Oliver, see post) that featured a society with Society-determined marriages, but it happened to be available for download on a day that I was browsing the library's e-audio offering so I checked it out. Since most of my preference predictions about that crop of books were wrong,1 it should come as no surprise that I liked Matched.

The authoritarian society depicted in both Matched and Crossed is more complex than those in some of the other dystopian releases (yeah!), much more so that I expected, and its depth is revealed slowly to both protagonist and reader. The series also features a group of individuals referred to as the Archivists (expect a post on that in the near future).

I didn't enjoy Crossed as much as Matched, but considering that Crossed is the second book in a planned trilogy that's almost to be expected.

A History of Venice by John Julius Norwich

Russell came back from the library one day and said that he'd seen a book he thought I might like, a history of Venice, but that he hadn't picked it up for me since he wasn't sure what my reading schedule looked like. My reading schedule, such as it is, is nothing but flexible and I love variety so I asked him to bring the book home next time he went to the library.

I have to admit that I was overwhelmed when he presented me with John Julius Norwich's 736-page A History of Venice: so fat, such fine print. Norwich starts with early settlements in the general area of the Venetian Republic (late Roman period) and follows through until Napoleon conquers the Republic. I think that I made it through the introduction and four chapters before we had to return the book or suffer over-due fees. I'm not sure that I'll check it out again, though. I suspect that there is another Venetian history out there that would be a better fit for me. From other reviews I've read it seems like Norwich continues to focus on political and military chronology while generally neglecting all the other (in my opinion) more interesting aspects of the Republic's history.
  1. I was disappointed by Bumped by Megan McCafferty (see post) and the aforementioned Delirium, both of which I expected to love, and pleasantly surprised by Divergent by Veronica Roth (see post), which I'd more or less decided to pass over and only read because I won a copy from Kaye at paper reader.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The History of the English Language in Ten Minutes

Russell discovered this YouTube video, a compilation of Open University's History of the English Language in 10 Minutes series, and shared it with me. It's a quick, humorous, and informative overview of the development of the English language, which is very much in keeping with this blog's featured-word theme. The video (series) also happens to be a great little piece of publicity for Open University, a UK-based online university (n.b. one of my internet friends is an OU student and she seems pleased with it).

Open University's History of the English Language in 10 Minutes is divided into ten parts: Anglo-Saxon, The Norman Conquest, Shakespeare, The King James Bible, The English of Science, English and Empire (my favorite), The Age of the Dictionary (strangely enough there's no specific mention of the OED), American English, Internet English, and Global English. You can watch them in one fell swoop1 by following the link in the first line of this post, or one by one through the original site, linked elsewhere.

Highly recommended.
  1. See MacBeth. Another phrase that could have been included in the Shakespeare episode.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

one of those relatives

Yes, I'm one of those relatives. The ones who give books rather than toys to the children in their lives. Though not having kids myself I sometimes unintentionally give them books beyond their reading levels. Poor Olivia got one of my favorite books, Zahrah the Windseeker, for her 10th birthday and while it is listed as 10 and up some places, I realized it wasn't the best choice when I visited her and found her reading The Tale of Despereaux. In any case, I'm making a concerted effort to be better about that.

This year, in hopes of being prepared for the birthdays that always seem to sneak up on me, I bought books for all my reading nieces and nephews in one fowl swoop (we already had something for the littlest one, who happens to have one of the earliest birthdays). Since I'm certain that none of them read this blog I'm going to share my selections here.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (for boy turning 11)

Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running she decided not to run FROM somewhere, but TO somewhere. And so, after some careful planning, she and her younger brother, Jamie, escaped — right into a mystery that made headlines!

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was one of my favorite books. I loved the idea of running away to the the Metropolitan museum of art (and of sleeping in a famous, ornate bed).

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien (for girl turning 10)

Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse with four small children, is faced with a terrible problem. She must move her family to their summer quarters immediately, or face almost certain death. But her youngest son, Timothy, lies ill with pneumonia and must not be moved. Fortunately, she encounters the rats of NIMH, an extraordinary breed of highly intelligent creatures, who come up with a brilliant solution to her dilemma.

Another book I loved as a child (I loved the film adaptation, The Secret of NIMH as well; I remember reading Rasco and the Rats of NIMH, but not the second follow up).

The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood (for girl turning 12)

The first book in the Incorrigble Children of Ashton Place series.
Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander, age ten or thereabouts, keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia, perhaps four or five, has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf, age somewhere-in-the-middle, is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.
Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin verbs and the proper use of globes, first she must help them overcome their canine tendencies.
But mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures, and how did they come to live in the vast forests of the estate? Why does Old Timothy, the coachman, lurk around every corner? Will Penelope be able to teach the Incorrigibles table manners and socially useful phrases in time for Lady Constance's holiday ball? And what on earth is a schottische?

I haven't read this one, but I loved the concept (children raised by wolves and whatnot) and it seems endearingly cheeky. I also like giving first-in-a-series books because if the recipient enjoys it they can continue along with the series.

The child in question has already received this book, but I haven't had word on what she thought of it, if she's even read it yet.

The Sigh by Marjane Satrapi (for girl turning 8)

Rose is one of three daughters of a rich merchant who always brings gifts for his girls from the market. One day Rose asks for the seed of a blue bean, but he fails to find one for her. She lets out a sigh in resignation, and her sigh attracts the Sigh, a mysterious being that brings the seed she desired to the merchant. But every debt has to be paid, and every gift has a price, and the Sigh returns a year later to take the merchants daughter to a secret and distant palace.

I wasn't familiar with The Sigh before I happened across it on a table in the children's section of the Strand. I do like Marjane Satrapi. The Sigh is more illustrated book than graphic novel and it is suitable for all ages (per the cover at least, I flipped through and didn't see anything questionable).

Saturday, March 24, 2012

reading H.P. Lovecraft

Even though I'm not supposed to be buying books for myself, I did pick up one during this latest blog-neglecting period. When I was book shopping for my nieces and nephews (a post on that topic coming soon) I happened across this deeply discounted title: Tales of H.P. Lovecraft, introduced and selected by Joyce Carol Oates. Now that we (finally) have a copy of Arkham Horror, a board game built around H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, I felt it was high time that both Russell and I read Lovecraft's work (and I love the cover art). I also figure that I might as well share my thoughts on the individual stories on the blog. So far I've read the first three.

The stories included in Tales of H.P. Lovecraft are supposedly his major works. I'm not sure if the stories are arranged chronologically or with any rhyme or reason and I don't remember reading anything about that the arrangement in the volume's introduction.

Joyce Carol Oates' Introduction (9.5 pages)
I appreciated getting a bit more biographical information about Lovecraft. What a horrible, horrible mother he had. JCO references many writers while placing Lovecraft in the context, explains the Cthulhu Mythos and its origins, identifies the overlap of Lovecraft's imaginary geography with areas in the Northeast United States, and outlines reader response. However some of the most interesting bits of the essay aren't specific to Lovecraft and his work.

JCO on the difference between genre and literary fiction:
Readers of genre-fiction, unlike readers of what we presume to call "literary fiction," assume a tacit contract between themselves and the writer: they understand that they will be manipulated, but the question is how? and when? and with what skill? and to what purpose? However plot-ridden, fantastical or absurd, populated by whatever pseudo-characters, genre-fiction is always resolved, while literary fiction makes no such promises; there is no contract between reader and write for, in theory at least, each work of literary fiction is original, and, in essence, "about" its language; anything can happen, or, upon occasion, nothing. Genre fiction is addictive, literary fiction, unfortunately is not. (xiii)
Nostalgia: "To love the past, to extol the past, to year in some way to inhabit the past is surely to misread the past, purposefully or otherwise; above all, it's to select from the past only those aspects that accommodate a self-protective and self-nourishing fantasy" (xi).

"The Outsider" (5+ pages)
Even though I'm pretty sure that I had not previously read any Lovecraft, I was struck with profound sense of déjà vu when reading "The Outsider." A disappointing start to the collection, short with its surprise ending so obviously that even twist seems inappropriate.

"The Music of Erich Zann" (7 pages)
A bit creepier, but the framed narrative gives the reader a bit too much distance.

"The Rats in the Walls" (16 pages)
Finally a really good ending. "The Rats in the Walls" gave me hope for both Lovecraft and this volume.

Friday, March 23, 2012

my thoughts on Hunger Games fever

I love, love, love the Hunger Games Trilogy,1 but I’m not planning on seeing the movie.

While I'm pleased that the movie (and surrounding media hype) has helped many to discover the books, I'm avoiding it like the plague. I have decidedly mixed feelings about film adaptations (some I love, some I loathe), but because I love the series so much I’m resisting Hollywood’s need to show me how they think characters, places, scenes should look. And, of course there are some bits that are horrifying enough in my head that I really really don’t need to see them played out on the big screen.

The movie buzz has been irritatingly pervasive: tv, print media, the blogosphere, merchandise...
by the way I highly recommend SyFy's FaceOff, a Project Runway-like reality show focusing on special effects makeup, despite the fact that they felt the need to beat into viewers heads trumpet the judges' involvement with the HG movie.

In case any of you are wondering, I'm not going to be getting nail polish. I understand that a HG nail polish collection can be viewed as tongue-in-cheek, but I can't get past how out of line it is with the overarching theme of the series.
  1. Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

miss me?

I've been neglecting the blog again.

While I've thought about posting a number of times over this break, the fact that I didn't is evidence of my ambivalence about the blog.  I definitely have a love/hate relationship with this blog (with more hate than love).  I cycle between wanting to give up on it entirely and desiring to be "a better blogger" and post more regularly.  When you make something you enjoy (in this case reading and talking about books) into work, it tends to become a lot less enjoyable.

I started this blog in 2006 because I was encouraged to do so. At first I found the writing of it both novel and fun, later I became more serious about posting what I thought of as "proper" reviews. For ages, though, it seems that I've been in this place of profound ambivalence about the blog. I don't get many comments, but I don't feel like I have the right to complain about it because as a blog reader I comment infrequently (but in the absence of comments its impossible to know whether anyone is actually reading what one writes). I don't have many followers, but the market for book blogs is over-saturated and I really haven't made a concerted effort to gain followers (my explorations into regular weekly follow memes yielded a reader overcrowded with blogs I didn't particularly want to read and few new followers). During one of my periodic blog-subscription weedings (when I was actually posting regularly), I was shocked to see that someone who hadn't posted in over a year still had easily ten times more followers that I did.

The point of this post is just to communicate a bit of what I'm feeling about this project and to see whether it engenders any response. I'm not giving up on the blog entirely yet and I do intend to get back into a regular posting cycle, but I'd appreciate hearing from those of you who read the blog (when I do post) even if it's just an acknowledgment that you do read my posts every once in a while.

Now I'm off to read Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, which Russell picked up for me at the library today. I'm looking forward to it.

Sleepy Hollow (in The Book of Lost Fragrances)

I mentioned in this post that Sleepy Hollow appears in M.J. Rose's The Book of Lost Fragrances. It's focus is on the famous Sleepy Hollow Cemetery:
Forty-five minutes later the aroma of towering pines and newly blooming redbud trees informed Jac they'd reached the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, nestled in the lush Hudson River Valley. [...]
For the last 160 years, all of her mother's family had been buried in this Victorian cemetery that sat high on a ridge overlooking the Pocantico River. Having so many relatives in this overgrown memorial park made her feel strangely at home. [...] (28-29)
Oh, how this passage perplexes me particularly since, according to her bio, M.J. Rose lives in Connecticut and so could have easily visited the landmark.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is indeed "nestled in the lush Hudson River Valley," but while said valley has some pines, they do not dominate the landscape and scent the air (particularly when driving on route 9, the only way to get to the cemetery). In fact the trees in the area are primarily deciduous. As for redbud trees, I've never noticed them, but I will pay attention come spring. Apparently they are native to the area though.

The Pocantico River "meander[s] gently just a few steps away" from part of the cemetery, but the cemetery isn't high on a ridge overlooking anything (well, the large mausoleum overlooks route 9, I suppose).

The "overgrown memorial park" combined with mentions of winding roads that I didn't include in the quote above, makes the cemetery sound enormous. It's 85 acres, which isn't particularly big especially for a suburban cemetery. By way of comparison Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx is 400 acres, Forest Lawn in Buffalo is 250 acres, and Arlington is 624 acres.

I'm sure that I sound unnecessarily critical and nickpicky here, but I'm just disappointed (and I did succeed in resisting the urge to pick at the use of "Victorian"). It wouldn't have been difficult to write a more accurate description of the cemetery and its environs and that would have made all the difference to me.